It’s weird: the yelling, screaming, lies, manipulations, all of that stuff – it’s not something the person who did them take responsibility for. Instead, it’s because you made them do it.
If you haven’t already, be sure to head over and read part 1 of this series of posts (this is part 8), in particular the Introduction section that puts this into a bit of a larger context, and gives a couple of disclaimers (like, for instance, assuming that I’m talking about a specific person or persons in these posts.) Even if you don’t read the rest of that post, read the Introduction. This isn’t just about a single person in my life, and it’s not about men or women. While it happened to a guy, and it’s being told by a guy, you can change “he” and “she” to any gender you like, and it still fits.
It’s All Your Fault
OK, here are levels of accountability where the statement “It’s all your fault.” There are times it’s your fault. Let’s say the kitchen smells because you let the garbage pile up for three weeks? Yep, the fact that it smells is your fault. It was directly your actions – or in this case, inactions – in the physical realm that caused the kitchen to smell. You can go ahead and own up to it, it’s all yours. Growing up, most of us are taught to take ownership of our failures. It’s not a bad thing at all. We learn through that process when we’re young, like so many other things we learn at a young age.
If you get angry because you didn’t take the garbage out for three weeks, also own up to your anger. You did this, this is your thing, and while you might be angry about it, it’s still something you need to own up to. I think we can all agree on both of these examples as being reasonable and sane.
Now, this is where it gets a little harder. Let’s say your significant other comes in, smells the kitchen, and is angry about it. Little more dubious now. Yes, you did something wrong, and they are angry about it.
Now, even harder. Let’s say your significant other comes in, smells the kitchen, and screams at you for 10 minutes about how worthless you are, and it’s all your fault, and on and on and on.
And, let’s get a little more obvious again: let’s say your significant other comes in, smells the kitchen, and hits you, and tells you it’s all your fault that you had to be hit. Pretty obvious they crossed the line there. Their fist doesn’t belong to you, so obviously you didn’t hit yourself. Their rage doesn’t belong to you. So, how is you getting hit your fault?
Here’s the thing: eventually, if told “it’s all your fault” enough times, you’ll eventually start believing them. In a way, it’s a simple tool that relates back to that stuff we were taught as a kid: own up to the things that are your fault. So, when told over and over, you’ll believe it. It’s called ‘victim blaming’, and it’s fairly common. In fact, here’s the thing – it actually eventually starts letting the abuse have free reign to do whatever they want.
Want to hear sick and twisted? I’m still experiencing it. “There’s a couple of times it’s my fault that she screamed, yelled, and called me names.” That’s actually gone through my head a couple of times while writing this. (There’s many reasons why I’m writing so much on the overall subject of abuse.) I was told this enough times, it eventually stuck. She was angry at me because of her job. It was my fault she had to have a job she didn’t like. I started making a list of things that were “my fault”, and realized how long it got. I deleted all but one, just to give an example, but the point remains that it’s ridiculous that something like that is my fault, and that it’s my fault that I was being called names. But damned, that sticky bit in the back of my head saying “But… but…”
I Wouldn’t Do This If You Didn’t…
The follow up to “It’s all your fault” is “I wouldn’t do this if you didn’t / weren’t”. Again, it takes our sense of responsibility and ownership, and turns it against us, just like “it’s all your fault.”
Though, “I wouldn’t do (insert thing) if you didn’t / weren’t” is a nice one-two punch sometimes, which is why I separated it from the “It’s all your fault.” See, not only does the abuser get to attack you for doing something wrong, they also get to convince you to take the blame, and expand on why you’re such a horrible person all at the same time. “I wouldn’t yell at you like this if you weren’t so fucking lazy!”
See that, tacks a great insult in right at the end. You’re not just at fault, you’re at fault because you’re lazy. Or you’re fat. Or anything. Heck, there’s even the random chance that it can be done sort of sideways: “I wouldn’t have yelled at you like this if it wasn’t for bad traffic today.” See, as long as they can blame it on something besides themselves, it still keeps them in the clear.
There’s a ton of variations on this theme, of course. It’s just a great go-to for so many ways of attacking someone.
And, using that kitchen example, it rolls right into physical abuse nicely. “I wouldn’t have to hit you if you just took the trash out.” It’s just so easy to do: blame the victim, convince them to internalize the attack, and degrade some of their other attributes at the same time.
It’s Not My Fault
The responsibility for the issue is mine, but the emotions aren’t.
Going back to that kitchen example again (and, yes, that’s a made up example), here’s the important take away: the failure to take out the trash? Mine. The anger of my partner? Theirs. The abusive attitude that goes with it? Theirs. We’re not responsible for what goes on inside of the head of another human being. The fact that you got called names isn’t your fault. You shouldn’t internalize it as being your thing. It’s theirs. It’s all theirs.
Now, don’t get me wrong: life comes with repercussions. If you’re speeding, you get a ticket. If you fail to take out the trash, your partner may become angry. But, you’re only responsible for your own emotions. No matter what, that’s your responsibility. Their emotions are their responsibility. They could have just as easily walked in and asked “Hey, why haven’t you taken out the trash?” Or, “Hey, the trash has got to go out – you need to do that now, the kitchen reeks.” There may be some edge to their voice because they are seriously angry about it. Yelling and screaming “because that’s the only way it gets done”? That’s a bad approach on their part, not your part. Take responsibility for your part – not taking out the trash – and let them own responsibility for their actions.
I mentioned the sick and twisted bit where part of my brain still wants to accept blame for someone’s screaming. We’ll let’s get even more sick with it: being sorry for.
You’ll not feel sorry for having failed to take out the trash. You’ll feel sorry that you made them yell and call you names. You’ll feel sorry that you did something wrong, again. You’ll feel sorry for all sorts of things. But, over time, it won’t be for the thing you did or failed to do. Naw, that’s long gone. You’ll feel sorry that you made them mad. It flips the whole game around: that person abusing you? It’s not just your fault. You’ll actually feel like you’re the one being bad, the one doing the wrong thing. You’ll come to fear it in a way – not necessarily the yelling and insults, but the feeling that you fucked up again. Even if they’re only angry that they had to come home from a job they didn’t like.
You’ll take full ownership for abuse.
Ready for this? It gets worse. See, we don’t really like talking to people about the things we did wrong nearly as much as we like talking about… well, and thing BUT what we’ve done wrong. I’ve been told I’m rare in the fact that I’ll own up to being wrong, and even talk about it (ahem, I wrote a book once on the wrong decisions to make in business – I felt it better to share my failures than hide them. Yes, I’m weird.) So, not only does the abuser now have lots of control over us, the abuser will a blank slate to work from. Remember as those friends started to dwindle in an earlier post, allowing the abuser to do whatever? With this tactic by it’s self – or in conjunction with pushing your friends and family out – it doesn’t matter who you have around you. You’re not going to tell them you spent 10 minutes being insulted, because your partner didn’t do anything wrong: you’ll fully believe it was you.